One degree. One decade

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All / Coexistence & Harmony / Getting Started

ESG or Environmental Social Governance is the criteria used by some mutual funds and exchange traded funds to offer green options to investors. It’s what your bank will send your way, when you ask about funds that invest in clean energy and conservation. After reviewing three ESG funds, all I have to say is, ‘no thanks.’ 

ESG is primarily greenwashing, a term used for initiatives that lack environmental-integrity: They are marketed as green but they barely even make a dent in reducing carbon emissions.

CNG or Compressed Natural Gas emits only 5 to 10 percent less CO2 than gasoline or diesel, and investing in it cannot be considered green. Luxury hotels that include two-day laundry cycles instead of daily washes are not green (a study of 58 luxury hotels in Taiwan revealed that 50kg-CO2 emissions are generated for each room/night sold), and eco-brands that ship worldwide are not green either (aviation produces 74% more CO2 than road transport)—This is greenwashing! 

The presence of Oil and Gas companies in an ESG equity list highlights the lack of commitment towards decarbonisation. Maybe they need to be reminded that CO2 emissions are not green.

ESG equity selection

To be truly green we need to move away from fossil fuel; no small task this. Those who get there, live by nature’s cycles, undertake forestation, use solar, wind, or bioenergy, and make in quantities that allow time for resources to replenish – there’s a lot more complexity to this mix than apparent. A commendable example of green is Navadarshanam in Tamil Nadu, India. A land-based community that started in the 1990s on 115 acres (~46.5 hectares or 465,000 square meters) of arid land, which today, after thirty-years, is largely a healthy forest dedicated to wilderness preservation. 

Here are three important principles, amongst others, that they follow:

  1. Limiting their use of power, by way of lifestyle adaptation.
  2. Generating the little power they need using alternative technologies and traditional systems.
  3. Using minimal material and energy in their architecture design and buildings, and maintaining human scale by avoiding mechanised tools and processes.

Not all of us can do what the community at Navadarshanam has done. To step outside a fossil fuel guzzling system is unimaginable for most. And we do not have thirty-years. All we have is this decade—till 2030—to damage control, failing which, we may witness (unlikely we will survive till then) a temperature rise of 3.2°C

At the current global average warming of 1°C, we already have wildfires, drying water tables, bleached corals, and melting glaciers to reckon with.

If all anthropogenic emissions (including aerosol-related) were reduced to zero immediately, any further warming beyond the 1°C already experienced would likely be less than 0.5°C over the next two to three decades (high confidence), and likely less than 0.5°C on a century time scale (medium confidence), due to the opposing effects of different climate processes and drivers. A warming greater than 1.5°C is therefore not geophysically unavoidable: whether it will occur depends on future rates of emission reductions. 

The longer the delay in reducing CO2 emissions towards zero, the larger the likelihood of exceeding 1.5°C.

-Sixth Assessment Report, Working Group I, August 2021 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, part of the United Nations)

You and I may not be able to influence policy, but we can support the call for change. Here are some adaptations that we can put into practice to help meet the urgent goal to reduce emissions:

  1. Sell our holdings and equity in oil, gas, and lubricant companies – it’s okay if the stock gets devalued.
  2. Reduce our use of power – Don’t turn on festive lights, keep apartment buildings dimly lit, try and install sensors in housing complexes and offices, don’t reach for the air conditioning remote, climb the stairs if possible.
  3. Use grass alternatives in the garden and the backyard – Choose those that are drought resistant and suit the local climate. Thyme, chamomile, and some variety of mint seem to be common ones. Check with a permaculture practitioner. Read some suggestions. Grass alternatives reduce our use of water and aid habitation by insects and butterflies, they may also help trap more moisture in the soil.
  4. Rewild – plant more native trees and reduce the grass in our lawns. How about a 70:30 ratio? 70 percent trees and 30 percent grass alternatives.
  5. Ask the government representative in your area to assign space in parks, and on inside roads to plant more native trees.
  6. Buy local. Buy less.
  7. Take time to book your next flight. Do it only if it’s unavoidable. 
  8. Choose circular design companies where possible – those who consider the entire cycle from resource to product (and packaging) and back to resource, taking only what can grow back, and depleting nothing. ‘From nature you can always see that something that we consider as waste is the best energy fuel for something else to grow.’ – Lakshmi Menon, designer, Kerala (India)

“To save the Polar Bears, daddy”

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All / Coexistence & Harmony / Getting Started
To save the Polar Bears, daddy
‘To save the Polar Bears, daddy!’
Image from The Lonely Polar Bear, by Khoa Le. Image Courtesy: Amazon.com

My five-year old niece and I were reading about Polar Bears during her last visit to India in February-March 2020. It was learning hour and we were serious about it. Everyone needed to ‘be quiet!’ (as instructed by my niece in her most assertive voice) while we huddled in front of the laptop reading on Nat Geo Kids and watching short documentaries and videos. She would pick the animal, I would do the browsing and reading, and then we would have a discussion.

Polar Bears, we learned have black skin under their thick coat of fur, and their fur is not white, as we commonly assume, it’s actually transparent and hollow, and it reflects light: This natural camouflage helps them hunt while blending with their snowy, white surroundings. 

We also learned that they are classified as vulnerable, and my niece asked, ‘what does vul-(ne)-rable mean?’ I said, ‘It means they need protection and we need to help them stay safe.’ 

Her next question was: ‘Why are they not safe?’ ‘Because the ice is melting, Isabel.’ ‘Why is the ice melting?’ she asked. 

I was ready for this exchange. Isabel loves asking questions, and for good reason I don’t tire of them: I am fascinated by her curiosity, which teaches me as much as it does her.

Me: The ice is melting because the climate is changing too fast.

Isabel: Why-yyy

Me: Well, because of the way we do things.

Isabel: Who is we?

Me: All of us! 

Isabel: All the people in the world?

Me: Umm, well, almost all. Everyone who drives cars a lot, takes too many trips on the plane, and buys too many things is changing the climate.

Isabel: (Pause). Why do Polar Bears need ice?

Me: (Thankful to Nat Geo Kids for all the answers). To hunt. They are not very good swimmers; (in a hushed tone with my finger on my lip) they stand quietly on the ice and quickly grab a seal when it pops out of the sea. 

Isabel: (in the same hushed tone) Ohh. How can we keep them safe?

Me: We need to buy less things, use what we have carefully, and try and not use cars and planes as much.

Isabel: Ok-ayy. Can we play now?

Next morning, my cousin sister conveyed a message that read, Thank you, Neha. It was from Isabel’s dad. I looked at her confused. Isabel while speaking to her father on FaceTime proclaimed that she was going to ride the bicycle to school when she returned (to California). When her father asked her why she’d be doing that, she said, ‘To save the polar bears, daddy.’ 

The cause, the effect, and the solution were so clear in Isabel’s mind: Our overuse of fossil fuel has accelerated changes in climate and extreme weather events, and the way out is to stop the use of fossil fuel and choose alternative, renewable sources that are available. 

I learned quickly from Isabel, and shortly after she left in March 2020, I began defunding gradually: I pulled my money out of most fixed deposits and funds, with a request to my bank and investment manager to send me details about clean energy options. 

Nothing yet. 

At institutions and organisations, defunding and divestment requires planning and consensus, and it requires pressure from stakeholders: investors, consumers, student bodies, and every individual involved. If we pull out our funds where possible, pressure builds up. We can’t not pay taxes but we can choose our investments.  

This may not put an end to world leaders using our money to fund guns and discrimination, but it can cut funding for deforestation, coal, and oil.  

Pledging to ride the bicycle to school is essential, and the combined effect of our pledges will help, certainly. I have been taking my pledges on Count Us In. But collective pressure through defunding is imperative. All of us have a little money invested somewhere. If we don’t know where the money is going, assume it’s not going to the right place, in the context of climate change.

I am requesting campaigners and climate activists to help more of us to take the step to redirect our investments. The campaign Fossil Free is slowly becoming a force in the US and Europe, but it still needs support to come into common consciousness there and across the world.

Campaigners can use Fossil Free’s comprehensive training and resource pack to start local groups that can give the movement strength. Resource pack to start a campaign group.

If it seems like a lot of effort in addition to all else that we need to do, let’s maybe reprioritise and ask ourselves: Why is it worth the effort? And like Isabel, we too may have our own rendition or translation of ’To save the Polar Bears, daddy!’

Shelter

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All / Coexistence & Harmony
Kori Gaon, Shelter
A place called home.
Photo Courtesy: Praveen Khanna and Jansatta.com


A week back, I watched Shelter, a short documentary that won the AFI DOCS award by the American Film Institute. Shelter is directed by Smriti Mundhra, a talented and sensitive woman who happens to be my cousin sister. The 35-minute documentary helps us identify with the homeless in a very human and real way.

Today, when I read the news (sadly, nothing new about it) that homes of thousands of people in Khori Gaon, in the National Capital Region of India, have been demolished without arrangements for rehabilitation, I was reminded of the children and families that the documentary followed. Once again a basic human right has been violated and this time with the blessings of India’s highest court of justice.

We have chosen rules over kindness, and apathy over love: Who will right this wrong?

Shelter

Sleep outside on a cold winter night

No quilts for cover, no hearth or warmth

Stand and watch in scorching sunlight

Bricks and rubble that once were called home

No shelter for those without papers in their name

Belongings in hand they watch as their countrymen do wrong

Batons strike as they plead for relief

Life already uncertain with death and disease

Wages don’t reach

Meals are scrimped and saved

Their home the only shelter from the grief.

Child in her arms, ailing man by her side

She watches her solace crumble

Under the weight of our apathy. 

Oh, loveless world

Step outside and stand by their side

For our homes are no shelter

But a house of cards

It’s land that we live on, not in concrete 

It houses humans, bipeds, minerals, and trees

We live amongst invertebrates and amoeboid too 

None have encroached 

Except those who ignore this truth.

In-between

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All / Between the lines
In-between
In-between.
Photo Courtesy: Shikha in Hanle, Ladakh, India


I wonder if I lack faith when people tell me they have put their intentions out into the universe and they believe things will manifest in the way imagined.

I also wonder if I lack confidence when people tell me that I need to know exactly what I want and go after it to make it happen. 

Between lack of faith and lack of confidence, is the place where I situate myself. In this space the universe knows (and I too cannot ignore) that I do not know how to wish and what to pursue. It does not sound particularly impressive, but it is, because between the wish and the pursuit resides awe. 

It’s where we feel dread and wonder—the feeling that diminishes our reality and assigns it magnificence at the same time. I felt it when I watched up-close a Humpback whale breach or leap out of the waters in Iceland, and when I heard the thunderous sound of an avalanche and saw snow cascade down the mountain next to where I was camping in the Himalayas at Uttarakhand in India. I also felt it numerous times this past year when I could not speed up the languid pace of monotony, as much as I tried. 

I wanted to shake off monotony and break out of its uneventful cycle, because it diminished my reality. I wondered if a caterpillar felt the same rolled up as a pupa? With no external impetus or the usual distractions of the pre-pandemic world, I had little choice but to accept monotony. Perhaps, like the caterpillar is primed from birth to become a moth or a butterfly, we too are primed to accept and observe monotony? Yet I resisted till I no longer did.

Curiously enough, my mind began observing in the uneventfulness the selfsame wonder and dread that we experience in the exhilarating. When the restlessness that had been my response started to settle, I noticed that something more lay underneath the ennui or boredom and below the thick fog of dullness: In the seemingly repetitive flow of monotony is a continuous unfolding, Life is happening to us while we are busy making other plans (paraphrased from Beautiful Boy, by John Lennon). 

Last night, I received the news about a suicide—a life had ended too soon. A sweet and gentle boy who had grown into a caring young man had missed out on the awe concealed by monotony. He may have chosen not to die had someone pointed him to it.

Learn to see is for him, and for all of us: Beyond the pursuit and the wish, awe awaits, I am pointing you to it.


Don’t wish upon the stars, little boy 

Nor aim for the stars as you were told 

Just watch and you shall see.

I will sit beside you, watching too

My presence a reminder that you’re not alone.

It’s hard to see when the lights get bright

It’s hard to see when clouds gather

When pursuits pull you

And wishes tempt

Just be still and you shall see. 

For the brook will gurgle

The breeze will flow

The whale will breach

And cascade will snow.

In this unwavering monotony: the cycle of life

We, there isn’t

I, not in the least

There is but all

One and the same.

The caterpillar is primed to be a moth or a butterfly

A pupa is a stage in-between

Don’t rush the transformation

Just hold on and you shall see

Dread when it merges with wonder

To reveal the awe that lies beneath.

Panorama: a wider view

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Panorama: a wider view
Shoo, another word for intolerance.
Photo Credit: Priyadarshini Ravichandran for kyobi.blog

I was sitting in the balcony, having my morning coffee while I looked out at the sea; it’s what I do almost every morning, yet it is special, because the sea, birds, trees, and me are a new configuration each day. 

As I settled on my seat, a crow came and perched on the ledge. Recently, it had been coming every morning and had become an expected visitor. I had this urge to shoo it away. The cawing sound is a little loud for my auditory nerves, and in anticipation I preferred it gone. But I let it be. And it did not caw. 

What is it about us humans that we do not like occupying space with another whose form, sound, or views we dislike? Others in the animal kingdom share this response. I was reading about elephants and their complex social structures—families, bond groups, clans. Some of their decisions are based on elephant culture and resource availability, and some on individual likes and dislikes: they take sides, they display loyalty, and they seek social inclusion. What they don’t do, or cannot do, is create tools of mass destruction and they can’t use propaganda to deceive, because their reality is still closely linked to the ecological world.

The experience with the crow and its cawing helped me understand the growing intolerance in the world. It struck me then that we develop intolerance in these seemingly innocuous ways, such as waving at the crow and saying go-away, even when the crow is perched unimposingly on a ledge. While elephants may not be able to reflect on how their behaviour is shaped, we humans can, yet we overlook the little reactions that lead to big trouble.

This explanation may seem a little excessive, except that it is not. It’s a simple experience of intolerance and therefore overlooked. The manifestations of such experiences are so disturbing on the world stage that we are usually overwhelmed. Let’s take the example of what is happening in Myanmar at present, the military is shooting and killing indiscriminately, people are dying and its distressing for almost all of us. What has been happening in Palestine is as troublesome, migrants from Africa being left to die at sea is heartbreaking, the genocide at Rwanda, the Gulags and Auschwitz, and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre were no better—the list is endless. Such events seem to come in waves that submerge us, leaving us with no adequate response, merely an emotional one. 

When events coincide with emotions, we react, we do it repeatedly till we develop a certain orientation. Our orientation can be liberal or conservative, rebellious, timid, or apathetic, or it can be deluded, righteous, or naïve, influenced by our surroundings, and our upbringing and exposure. 

Events and emotions feed each other in a continuous cycle till our orientation becomes an ideology. And what do we become? We become like dogs that keep chasing the tail: in futile pursuit of an illusion. 

Is there an alternative that will allow us to see the ineffectiveness of our ‘dog chase tail game?’ Is it preposterous to think that we—you and I—people with no real influence on the world stage can alter the course of humanity? To the contrary, it would seem. But how? 

By tolerating the presence of the crow. 

Perhaps if we begin here, we will not have to reckon with world leaders who cross all lines of injustice and deception, because from amongst us rise these very forces, be they supremacist, totalitarian, or militant.  

If 7.7 billion of us tolerated the other, would it not change the course of humanity as we know it today? Even if only half that number or about 3.85 billion actually succeeded it would keep the scale from tilting. 

I, a liberal thinker, only recently realised the narrowness of my broadminded views when I understood how critical I can be of others’ views. As someone with a more inclusive mindset should I not be allowing other views to hold space? I don’t have to imbibe these views if they feel insufficient and I need not engage by being critical. As an independent yet interconnected entity, I can simply let them be. 

A point-of-view does not breach the lines of respect and tolerance, our reactions do. Our reaction to the criticism and rejection that we receive because of our views leads us to coalesce into groups that eventually lead us to war with each other—civil, cold, or nuclear is irrelevant.  

About a week back, I read a book titled, ‘Emissary of Insight’. It’s a short biography of S.N. Goenka, the teacher of Vipassana Meditation. In April 2019, The New York Times featured him in their series Overlooked No More. Goenka or Goenkaji (-ji- is a suffix used in India to convey respect) carried forward the practical and ancient method of Vipassana Meditation from the time of the most recent Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama to the inhabitants of the tech age, relaying it beyond cultures and borders to both the scientific and the religious minded.

The author, Daniel Stuart, an academic, has tried to offer a critical and impersonal view on the life and choices of S.N. Goenka, who happens to be his meditation teacher, as well as mine. In reading the book I felt that it was too narrow in interpretation and simplistic in its explanation of complex events that may have led to some of the choices made by the Vipassana teacher. So, there’s Stuart’s view of S.N. Goenka’s decisions and approach that does not fully match my view, and neither is a complete or true representation, because Goenka(ji) is not here to explain the reason behind his choices.     

Can I therefore be satisfied with the book, as a well-written biography that offers a different perspective? A mentor suggested that I give space and room to the author to express his views. The minute I did this, all criticism dropped. I felt enriched as a reader who could use their own discernment to understand what I had received from the book, or explore the topic to develop a more complete perspective, or simply put aside the book like others once read.

A view is a perspective (merely one way of looking at something), sound is a vibration, and form is light reflected; That’s all. What then is there to dislike or criticise?

Where?

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Where?

Where I can sleep under the blue sky
Where fear doesn’t chase me or pull me down
Where my heart sings with the wind
Where nature is my body
Where trees are my kin
I need not travel to get there
All I must do is let go
Maybe I can; maybe I will; someday

Song of freedom: Nijeder Mote, Nieder Gaan

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All / Coexistence & Harmony
Song of freedom
Where freedom resides.


There’s very little that I have to say in this blog post. The shared video says it all: A collaborative contribution by artists from the Indian state of West Bengal expresses what it means to be free, in a song in Bengali, one of India’s many languages (a symbol of pluralism that the country and its people have managed to preserve till now). Video is supported by English subtitles.

Freedom
To rise up to love
To question our choices
To make art that inspires
To nourish trust
To give with joy
To care because not to is not in our nature
To be not victorious but truthful
To rest where freedom resides

Where?
Love is reciprocated
Kindness is chosen
Beauty is expressed
Trust is respected
Gratitude is felt
Caring is natural
Truth is lived.

Back Home

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Back Home
On my way home. Photo Courtesy: @Arka.Works

I began with a naïve assumption that people who had a connection with rural India would migrate from the city and move back home if they were given the means to a stable livelihood, one that possibly generates the income they earn in the city (INR 25,000 to 30,000/ USD 345 to 414 a month, for a family of five). 

Many in India’s marginalised urban communities live in over-crowded spaces in conditions of much distress, from exposure to extreme weather to lack of proper water and sanitation. Yet these conditions are not significant enough for them to choose a return to more sparsely populated villages, where they can live in natural surroundings alongside relatives.  

A friend who works in the social sector had alerted me to this possibility: ‘People who have been living in the city are so used to city-life that it’s likely they will not migrate back to the villages,’ she said. 

However, I wanted to reconfirm, because the need to depopulate cities is obvious, the need to repopulate villages is also obvious, and the need to redevelop our relationship with the earth and with nature is imperative: both for our moral and physical wellbeing, and for the wellbeing of the planet and all its inhabitants. 

Therefore, I requested a friend who lives in a slum settlement at Ambedkar Nagar in Cuffe Parade, Mumbai (India) to gather relevant information about the background of a few families and ask whether they would return to the village if economic opportunity existed. 

My precise, 13-question interview was held with four families. Three from Ambedkar Nagar and one from a different locality. I understand that this is a small group, but I wonder if people who share constrained physical space and everyday uncertainties develop a common sentiment or a shared way of thinking? The responses to my interview confirmed what my friend had intuitively known through her years of experience working with similar communities.     

Most of the families at Ambedkar Nagar have lived in Mumbai for a decade or two, or even three since the inception of this slum settlement in the 1990s. The people we spoke with still have family back in the villages, but the land they have is negligible in size and the families depending on it are large. That’s one reason why living in the village is not plausible. And the other reasons include lack of access to healthcare and education, and a more narrow outlook on social issues, which the respondents condensed into a phrase (lack of) open-thinking. I began contemplating : If access is what defines city-life and keeps people linked to the city, can we not improve access to some of these facilities and ideas so that eventually villages witness reverse migration and become dwellings of choice for more people, even those who are city-bred? Or can we at least bring the current rural-to-urban migration to a halt with improved exchange and access?

While such efforts are typically the mandate of public policy that has been conspicuously inactive at village development, can we not create useful activity? What happens if we start exchange and inter-dependency programs between cities and villages? Cultural exchange and trade agreements are common in foreign policy, can we not attempt the same through a people’s initiative? 

I am starting a consumer circle to increase trade with village enterprises and farmer groups. I have identified two non-profit institutions near Mumbai that can help supply us with some requirements to start with. There will be soap nut (reetha) for laundry and all-purpose bio cleaners to start the exchange. We can grow from there and take this initiative beyond products to developing the education infrastructure through teacher-mentoring programs for village school teachers: Sharing methods and ideas is as important as purchasing made in the village products—Since so much of what we consume is about where it’s made, (rightfully so if it comes from the culture or specialty of a region) then made in the village is how I think we need to brand these products to develop in the minds of people the idea that villages too can be creative and economic centres, of the kind that balance existing inequalities.

There are similar initiatives that are underway already, and one more will likely add to the positive momentum. I invite you to join the consumer circle by filling this simple form (Consumer Circle, Mumbai) with your details. I will start sharing information on products and other exchange programs through email. 

Our attempt will be to increase trade to help make villages economic centers, and to increase the exchange of methods and ideas to encourage the progressive development of villages. We will restrict ourselves to villages that are at a 300-kilometer or 186-mile distance from the city, so that we can take weekend road trips to facilitate exchange, and transport products easily using limited fossil fuel and packaging, and also create a way to send back and reuse packaging.  

Perhaps you are encouraged to start a similar circle in your city. Please connect with me if you do. Who knows we may become a network and force of good someday. I can be reached on dogearsbooks@gmail.com

‘Let the villages of the future live in our imagination, so that we might one day come to live in them.’ – Mahatma Gandhi

A very special thanks to Ashok Rathod and Sunita Rathod, and to Neesha Noronha.

Untouchable

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indu mill and 116 treesreplacing history

Image courtesy: Mumbai live and Free Press Journal

I live next to a textile mill complex from an era long-passed. Today, the old stone buildings have been reduced to rubble and the trees that surrounded them, more than 100 in number have been felled. My tired senses don’t feel the same when I look out the window and see pale-grey, concrete walls. 

The sound of drilling, hammering, crushing is louder than the thoughts in my head (didn’t know that was possible!). This despite the hundred odd meters between the construction site and my home, and the sound of waves breaking on the shoreline as a relief from nerve-wracking industrial sounds.

But what about the construction workers? Don’t they feel the dis-ease created by the sound of these machines frantically at work? Do they wear noise-reduction headphones like shooters and gaming folks who use it as a way to shut out the world while they enter their virtual realities? Unlikely. In a country where construction is rampant and labour is cheap and dispensable, and in an urban megalopolis where there are more people than the space for them to live (20,000 per kilometre/0.6 miles) and more vehicles than road span 1900 per kilometre or 0.6 miles, noise cannot be considered a hazard. 

Object Density, Mumbai Length of area
20,000 people 1 kilometer, 1000 meters, or 3281 feet
1900 cars at 14 feet per car = 7.6 kilometers, 7600 meters, or 25000 feet
(14 feet is the smallest sedan size considered to average out large vehicles and hatchbacks)
Given that Mumbai’s urban roads mostly have two lanes, the span would reduce to 3.8 kilometers, 3800 meters, or 12,500 feet, about 3.8 times the existing span of 1 kilometer, 1000 meters, or 3281 feet
(if all cars were brought to a halt, then they would be on top of each other)

With no way to know the mental and emotional response of those on the construction site, and feeling acutely the loss of the 100 or more trees and of the accompanying silence, I began asking myself about what a 350-foot (106.68meters) monument on a 100-foot (30.48meters) concrete pedestal represents? 

The question led me to discover Waiting for a Visa, written by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to illustrate the tyranny of the caste system through a set of six incidents in his life and the lives of a few others from his community. A short 20-page book that should have been part of our history curriculum in India, but was omitted for reasons best known to the Education Ministry. I am wondering why our teachers did not recommend the book as suggested reading? The possibility is that they probably hadn’t read it either: That’s how under-promoted the book is in the country: if a tree falls in a forest with no one to hear it does it make a sound? When we don’t know about something does it even exist? A good way to hide our injustice. 

Ambedkar was the chief architect of the Indian Constitution and he was a social reformer who advocated equality. He came from the much-discriminated untouchable community and he wrote the short book to highlight the reality of their situation for international readers. When he returned after five years of study at Columbia University, New York (USA), and London School of Economics, London (England), the oppression of casteism had been erased from his mind, only to be vividly revived by the people with whom he shared water, land, air, and cultural roots. 

Image courtesy: Routes Blog, Diplomatic Titbits Blogspot, The Buddhist Center

The straightforward language of the book gives a clear glimpse at what the people of his community suffered at the hands of not just Hindus—the original drafters of the caste system—but also Mohammedans, Parsis, and Christians, who otherwise divided stood unified in their discrimination of the untouchables of India. 

Water a resource that you and I so casually consume, each time we feel the pangs of thirst was often refused to the untouchables (I am intentionally using this politically incorrect word to emphasise the injustice meted out to a group of humans). 

The refusal to give access to drinking water refutes the right to life. We may think that such unjust treatment of individuals has been abandoned in one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Only if that were true. 

As recently as two years back, we killed a man from this ostracised community for using a hand pump to draw water during a heatwave (we became accessories to the crime by not advocating the end of such injustice; accessories definition). Despite various laws, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, and special reservations in educational institutions and in government employment, India has not succeeded at abolishing this tyrannical social injustice. A reminder perhaps that we need to strengthen our ethics and not merely our economy. 

Can a statue achieve to bring about change where laws and acts have failed? Not just any old statue like the ones in city squares, but one that will stand taller than the Giant Sequoias or Redwoods, the largest living organism on Earth: Larger than life but not larger than the stature of the man it represents.

At a total height of 450-feet or 137-meters, the upcoming Ambedkar statue will be the third tallest in the world. Following after, The Statue of Unity in Gujarat, India, which at about 787-feet or 240-meters from the base has not managed to bring unity amongst the divided sects in the country, and the Spring Temple Buddha of China that too failed at inspiring China to adopt the tenet of non-killing and non-violence towards all living beings with its wet market trade. And much like, the famous Statue of Liberty that did not stop the erosion of liberties during the recently-ended term of the 45th president of the United States.

Untouchability is a symptom of repulsion. And repulsion is a violent act of the mind. People violating the dignity of a person, whether we call them untouchables, Dalits (meaning oppressed or broken), or Harijan (The people of God) are simply being self-destructive: Most of us have felt the wrath of our repulsion at some occasion or the other to recognise its self-destructive capacity. Repulsion rages within us and destroys our love and joy as much as it destroys the joy and love of another. Its tools are anger, violence, hatred, and even seemingly innocuous rudeness, irritability or snappiness.   

When in our watch a person can be killed because he wanted to quench his thirst with a drink of water, then the violent reality of what we permit to thrive stares us in our face. Are we willing to look at it, people of modern India? We have been free for too long to ignore this oppression of freedom. 

While greatness needs to be celebrated to remind us of the values a person embodied, the INR 1100 crore (INR 11 billion or about USD 152 million as of date) budget allotted to build the statue of Ambedkar could have been used to uplift the downtrodden in the Dalit community through initiatives that increase inclusivity and reduce religious intolerance, and through socio-economic interventions. This may have been a more befitting way to honour a man who dedicated a large part of his adult life to help rid India of social ill-will.

“I measure the progress of community by the degree of progress which women have achieved. Let every girl who marries stand by her husband, claim to be her husband’s friend and equal, and refuse to be his slave. I am sure if you follow this advice, you will bring honour and glory to yourselves.”


Ambedkar was an advocate of woman’s rights. Quote Courtesy: The Better India

April 14 is the birth anniversary of Ambedkar, can we be harbingers of change and living examples of equality that Ambedkar advocated and worked for? 

We can use individual and collective engagement with people from Dalit communities to acknowledge their presence and help restore their dignity. On my part, I hope to identify a group of children from Dalit households to hold a series of story sessions and writing workshops that can help them use story writing as a tool for advocacy and to connect with fellow humans within and outside their community. To begin with, I recommend we develop our empathy by reading Waiting for a Visa (Link to PDF, courtesy Columbia University).

Sources and Citations:
https://www.indiatoday.in/diu/story/mumbai-vs-delhi-behind-covid19-numbers-india-two-worst-hit-cities-1687236-2020-06-09
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/mumbais-vehicle-density-15-times-that-of-maharashtra/articleshow/74507821.cms
https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/mumbai-height-of-ambedkar-statue-height-to-be-raised-by-100-ft-6218141/
https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/accessory

Perfect as is.

comment 1
All / Between the lines / Coexistence & Harmony

More than a year back it was suggested that I explore the concept of ageing in a story about mangoes. The suggestion came from my uncle T.S. Ananthu, a founding member of Navadarshanam Trust in Tamil Nadu, India. Navadarshanam was started in the 1990s to experiment with the Gandhian approach to technological progress that is predicated on the principle of nature as nurturer.

The possibilities in the suggestion were evident to me, so I left the thought alone till it evolved.

A little sub-text that I must add is that thoughts don’t just enter the mind and vanish; once in, they appear again and again shaping our imagination and influencing our perceptions. Since this realisation, I have become increasingly selective about the thoughts that I am willing to receive. It’s merely a sanity-preservation mechanism. The thoughts of T.S Ananthu or Ananthu Chacha are more than welcome, because they are a product of a beautiful, non-violent disposition, born of commitment that has been lived.  

Perfect as is: The story about beauty, ageing, and a gender-neutral mango

Perfect as is
Beauty is a disposition.
Photo credit: The Economic Times

Mangifera Indica, the botanical identifier for mango would have been the name of our protagonist had I not found out about its distaste for the human habit of categorising everything: from kingdom, to phylum or division, to class, all the way to species.

I opened up the matter for discussion: ‘What’s wrong with adopting the name of your species for the story,’ I asked. ‘But that’s not where it stops, does it? You humans have varieties within a species; look at your own—Black, Brown, White, Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian. You don’t go around calling yourselves Homo Sapiens. Why then call me by the name of my species?’ countered mango. ‘Good point,’ I murmured. ‘If only you humans would try and restrict yourselves to simple categorisations, such as living and non-living, edible and non-edible, and natural and human-made, you wouldn’t need so many names. You could then simply call me fruit,’ added mango. I thought this was a sensible view of the matter, but I stayed quiet. ‘Oh, well,’ went on mango, ‘You humans can keep busy with categorisations, but you are not going to tell me what name I should choose to be known by.’ I relented.

It disagreed vehemently with Alphonso Mango, said it’s a strange name for a fruit, as unappealing as Mangifera Indica that sounded clever merely because it was a mouthful. ‘If I must have a name for your story to begin, then Hapus is what I shall be known by; it’s native, easy, and gender-neutral,’ it stated resolutely.  

So Hapus it is that our protagonist is called. 

Hapus chuckled at the name. It had made up a partly fictitious though not necessarily exaggerated tale about the origin of the word, while developing a growing sense of pride in its own beauty, a result of watching the fruit-grower, the children of the fruit-grower, and the husband of the fruit-grower who before placing Hapus in a crate, examined it and exclaimed: ‘Perfect!’  

Hapus was telling its creative tale, for the first time, to the third bunch of bananas to be placed by its side. It had been awkward with the first two bunches, not entirely comfortable with their presence on the same display table. Understandably so, because on the tree and in the crate it had shared space with other mangoes only. 

However, as the bananas glanced at Hapus with admiration, it felt reassured by the increasingly familiar feeling of attention that it had become used to receiving, and by the time the third bunch of bananas were placed on the table, Hapus was all but ready to regale with its tale.  

The bananas listened as Hapus recited, ‘My great-grandma told me that back in the day when there were only the sucking type of mangoes in India, people did not look at mangoes as an object of beauty, they simply relished the juicy fruit. Then, the Portuguese came, conquered, and began to send fruits to Europe. They wanted mangoes that their royalty could consume with the accepted table etiquette of their culture, and so they grafted trees to cultivate more firm varieties of mangoes. 

One evening, in a cluster of villages along the coast of the Arabian Sea in the western parts of India, whispers were heard from the forests. Yes, in those days back in the 16th century fruit trees grew amidst other trees, there were no orchards then, and we the cultivars were planted by humans at the periphery (edge) of the forest.’ 

The bananas looked at Hapus in astonishment, as if seeing it for the first time. Hapus unwilling to trade admiration for astonishment quickly explained, ‘Humans only grafted and planted us, it was nature that gave us life and nourished us, so we too are natural fruits.’ Saying this, it hastily continued with the story.

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